McMaster issues executive order calling lawmakers back for special session to tackle abortion, other priorities

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Published: May. 12, 2023 at 8:54 AM EDT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina’s legislative session is going into overtime.

On Friday, Governor Henry McMaster officially called state lawmakers back to Columbia next week to take up a number of bills, one day after the legislative session ended.

This is the first time a governor has called for a special session in two decades.

The bills left on the table include several of the governor’s top priorities, including more restrictions on abortion and bond reform.

Work on the state budget is still being finalized as well.

“The question was do you do it or do you not, and the answer was bring them back,” he said. “I mean that’s important business, the budget is not through for crying out loud. There are things that need to be done”

McMaster said that the General Assembly made progress on several items, including school choice, a shield law, and a $1.3 billion incentive package to deliver Scout Motors and thousands of jobs to Richland County.

“But they have not finished their business,” he said.

When lawmakers return to the State House on Tuesday, the House will take up a bill banning most abortions in the state around six weeks.

That bill does include exceptions for the life of the mother, victims of sexual assault, and fatal fetal anomalies.

House Democrats plan to prolong the fight.

They carried more than one thousand amendments to the bill into the House chamber this week.

“We are not going to be breaking,” House Speaker Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, said. “So bring supper, dinner, breakfast, lunch, whatever for days or however long you want to get through amendments, but we’re going to get through that bill and have a final vote on that bill.”

The House and Senate have disagreed over how much to restrict abortion access in the state, with the two chambers in a stalemate over their differing bills as recently as a few weeks ago.

“I think it’s high time to go on and make a decision that is acceptable to the vast majority or most of the people in this state,” McMaster said. “There’s no reason why they can’t do that during this session, there’s plenty of time for that.”

The governor also urged lawmakers to close what he called “a revolving door” for known criminals, seeking to enhance penalties for illegal gun possession.

“Whatever vehicle, whatever bill the House or the Senate wants to use to get those graduated penalties for illegal guns for known criminals, I will happily accept and sign,” he said. “That needs to be done before they go. If they go home without having passed that where we have known criminals with illegal guns committing additional crimes, then that revolving door is still wide open. There’s no reason why we can’t enact that strong deterrent immediately.”

McMaster’s executive order lasts through the end of the month.

He is the first governor to call the legislature back for a special session since Democratic governor Jim Hodges in 2001.

Governor Nikki Haley attempted to do so in 2011, but the State Supreme Court denied the request.

McMaster also appointed Brian Gaines as the state’s comptroller general on Friday.

South Carolina’s previous top account, Richard Eckstrom, resigned after a state investigation found his office made a $3.5 billion accounting error over the course of a decade.

Gaines currently serves as the executive budget director for the state’s Department of Administration.

He previously held financial roles within the Department of Employment and Workforce as well as the Budget and Control Board.

WIS asked Gaines how he plans to ensure another blunder like the one that led to Eckstrom’s ouster will not happen under his leadership.

“I think it’s working with the staff and making sure that the acc firm which you are referring to is developed in the manner in which it complies with all the things it needs to comply with, and is done as best and accurately as we possibly can,” he said.

Gaines will serve in the role until the General Assembly elects Eckstrom’s replacement.

McMaster said he has full confidence in Gaines, given his familiarity with the budgeting process and the fact that he is not a political person.

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